Ukraine declared on Monday that its troops were still fighting Bakhmut’s encirclement attempt, while Washington said that even if the eastern city fell to a Russian offensive, it would not necessarily give Moscow a boost in the war.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said he had discussed the Bakhmut operation with the chief of the General Staff and the ground forces commander, who spoke in favor of “continuing to reinforce the positions in Bakhmut” to continue the defensive operation.
At the end of a winter offensive that has produced the war’s heaviest fighting, Russia is attempting to encircle Bakhmut to gain its first significant victory in more than half a year.
In view of recent Russian advances in the area, Ukrainian forces have been fortifying their positions west of Bakhmut.On Monday, however, it was reported that the commanders had not yet chosen to leave.
Thousands of shells are launched daily along the eastern and southern fronts, depleting artillery stockpiles on both sides. European friends of Kyiv are negotiating a pact to supply the capital with extra weapons.
In the latest sign of enmity between the Russian army and Wagner’s private army, which is leading Bakhmut’s assault, Wagner’s chief demanded more ammunition. It said his aide had been barred from the army’s operational headquarters.
According to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who spoke to reporters in the Middle East, the fall of the city “won’t necessarily indicate the Russians have turned the tide,” but he said that he could not say when Ukrainian troops may withdraw. ‘this battle,’ as in.
Moscow says capturing the city would be a step towards its main goal of seizing all of the territories in the surrounding Donbas region. Kyiv claims that Russia’s losses in trying to seize a city reduced to rubble could determine the future course of the war by destroying combat power ahead of decisive battles later this year.
According to the Ukrainian Army, Bakhmut was visited on Sunday by Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander Oleksandr Syrskyi. He said Wagner had thrown additional forces into the fight, but Ukrainian soldiers were still fighting.
Volodymyr Nazarenko, the Ukrainian commander in Bakhmut, stated that no withdrawal order had been given and that “the defense stands,” albeit in grim conditions.
“The situation in and around Bakhmut is a real hell, like on the entire Eastern Front,” Nazarenko said in a video posted on Telegram.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner boss who sent tens of thousands of convicts conscripted from Russian prisons into the battle over Bakhmut, made the latest in a series of remarks that have deepened his rift with Russian top brass.
Prigozhin stated that on Sunday, he had written a letter to the commander of the Ukrainian campaign “about the urgent need to allocate ammunition.” On Monday morning, he said that his representative at operational headquarters had had her pass canceled and access denied.
There was no immediate response from the Russian Defense Ministry. Since the beginning of this year, the Ukraine campaign has been personally led by Russia’s highest-ranking general, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
Prigozhin claimed last week that his men had Bakhmut all but surrounded. But on Saturday, he appeared in a video with a more somber assessment, warning that the front would collapse if Wagner were forced to withdraw, though it was not clear when the video was recorded.
He has accused ministry officials of “treason” for failing to supply his forces with adequate ammunition, which the ministry denied.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian 10th Assault Brigade, Mykyta Shandyba, told Ukrainian television that “it was clear” that Russian forces were facing an ammunition shortage that had limited their advances into Bakhmut.
However, he said Russian attacks had intensified recently, with groups of 30 trying to break through Ukrainian defense lines. “So far they have failed,” he said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has kept a low profile for most of the war, has recently paid a rare visit to his forces in Ukraine, handing out medals and meeting commanders. On Monday, he visited the eastern city of Mariupol, largely destroyed by Russian forces last year after a months-long siege.
After losing ground throughout the second half of 2022, Russia launched a winter offensive of intense trench warfare, making use of hundreds of thousands of reservists called up late last year.
Outside of Bakhmut, the Russian offensive has produced no notable gains, failing to gain ground in the Luhansk province further north and suffering heavy losses, particularly around Vuhledar to the south.
Kyiv, for its part, has focused primarily on defense for the past three months, trying to inflict heavy casualties as it prepares for a counter-offensive when new weapons arrive and the muddy ground dries up.
The think tank Institute for War Studies said it was unclear whether Ukraine would withdraw from Bakhmut or stay behind to further wear down the Russian force. In any case, the Moscow offensive seemed to be reaching its peak.
“The probable imminent culmination of the Russian offensive around Bakhmut before or after its fall, the already completed Russian offensive around Vuhledar, and the stalemate of the Russian offensive in Luhansk Oblast are probably creating solid conditions for a future Ukrainian counteroffensive,” its researchers wrote.